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Bushfire Company & Ensemble

Founded in 1977 by Alfred Simpkins, Bushfire Theatre of Performing Arts bought the old Locust Street Theater in West Philadelphia that dates back to the early 1900s. The historically-designed building was once a vaudeville house turned movie house. When bushfire arrived the structure was abandoned and in disrepair. It is now a 428 seat performing arts space and the home of the Bushfire Theatre professional ensemble.


In 1981, the Board of Directors developed a five year plan to acquire adjoining abandoned buildings, an artistic strategy to present world premiere plays, develop a professional ensemble of actors and a playwrights’ workshop. The buildings were acquired in 1983, 1984 and 1986 and Bushfire has renovated all of its facilities through internal resources and the support of the immediate community.


The goal to become a professional theatre was achieved in 1983 when we became members of Actors Equity Association. Our objective to provide African American artists with professional theatre opportunities has been ongoing since 1985 and we have satisfied a major goal of providing the West Philadelphia community with a professional theatre.


Bushfire is now considered amongst the oldest inner city professional theatre companies. In 1983, the 52nd Street Writer’s Workshop was established with assistance from writers such as Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Fuller, P. J. Gibson and the late Billy Graham. The 52nd Street Writer’s Workshop continued to grow and developed a close relationship with the late director Lloyd Richards, playwrights Jeff Stetson, Kathleen McGhee-Anderson, the late Judi Ann Mason, Richard Wesley and the late Matt Robinson. In 1994, Bushfire with the help of P. J. Gibson, Kathleen McGhee Anderson, Pearl Cleage, and Clyde Santana developed the Playwrights Think Tank Symposium.  Annually, African American playwrights come to Bushfire to discuss issues important to their craft. From the Playwrights Think Tank Symposium began the Langston Hughes Playwright's Workshop.


The theater building itself is a historic building. It was built as a movie palace and vaudeville theatre in 1914, and shifted to solely offering movies in the 1950’s. As neighborhood demographics changed, The Locust Movie Theatre became a second-run theatre in the 1970’s. Founder and Artistic Director Al Simpkins arranged to purchase the building in1977, converting the old movie space into a theatre that now seats over 400 patrons.


In the 1980’s Bushfire Theatre expanded to acquire three adjoining building for offices, additional performance and workshop spaces. These spaces are Sassy’s Salt Peanuts Cafe, The 52nd Street Writers’ Workshop, and the Artist Hut. The facility features a main stage and three additional stages, which allow for multiple projects and plays to be developed simultaneously.

Historical photographs of the building
Locust Theatre | 1920
locust theater 1920s.jpg
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